When It All Comes Together
Police, Paramedics, AAMC Emergency Department and Vascular Team Save a Man with an Aortic Aneurysm
For William Jenkins, December 23 started out like any other day. He was working at the Washington Times just off Rt. 50 in D.C., where he’s been a printer for many years. Around 11 a.m., his stomach began cramping. He told his boss he needed to go home. As he drove down Rt. 50 to his Edgewater home, the cramping became worse, accompanied by dizziness and sweating. Mr. Jenkins said, “I realized I couldn’t drive anymore, so I pulled off on to Rt. 424.”
About the same time, Lt. Don Ward of the Anne Arundel County Police Department was driving down 424 in the opposite direction. He saw Mr. Jenkins’ truck veer off the road and roll to a stop. “I saw his head resting against the seat and his eyes shut, so I turned around and pulled up beside him,” he said. The truck was still in gear and fortunately, where Mr. Jenkins had pulled off the road, a gentle shoulder helped stop him. That was only his first bit of luck that day.
Lt. Ward quickly realized Mr. Jenkins was in medical distress, pale and sweaty, and radioed for an ambulance. Within a minute, an ambulance passed him. “I thought to myself, ‘Wow, that was a fast response,’” but as it turned out, it was another bit of luck.
Paramedics Kim Corcoran and Michael Huffman were responding to another call when they saw Lt. Ward at Mr. Jenkins’s truck. Ms. Corcoran said, “We realized something was wrong, so we did a U-turn and pulled up.” They radioed in that they were stopping for this situation and after a minute received clearance and a second ambulance was dispatched to take the other call.
“Mr. Jenkins was barely conscious. He told Lt. Ward his stomach hurt. I could feel the mass and, given his outward appearance, realized he had the symptoms of an aortic aneurysm. He had no pulse at the wrist,” she said. They started an IV and did an EKG as they raced toward Anne Arundel Medical Center. “I told them we were coming in with a possible abdominal aneurysm. They were standing at the door when we arrived.” After a quick examination by ED physician David Mooradian, M.D., they rushed Mr. Jenkins to surgery.
Mr. Jenkins’ luck didn’t stop there. The hospital’s vascular team was just finishing a case and surgeon John Martin, M.D., was still in the hospital. Kelly Anderson, R.N., the ED nurse who was part of the team that took care of Mr. Jenkins said, “If Dr. Martin hadn’t been at the hospital, there is no way Mr. Jenkins would have survived. There wasn’t enough time.”
Dr. Martin said, “It’s extremely rare to survive a ruptured aortic aneurysm—80 to 90 percent don’t make it.”
An aneurysm occurs when there is a bulge in the aorta that balloons and bursts, causing massive blood loss and death. Hollywood favorites John Ritter and Lucille Ball both died from aortic aneurisms. Vascular teams have to stop the blood flow, repair the aorta and replace the lost blood.
Dr. Martin said a key factor in surviving aneurysm surgery is keeping the patient resuscitated. “Dr. Pham is a great anesthesiologist. If she hadn’t done such a great job, it wouldn’t have mattered what I did,” he said.
“My New Year’s resolution was to stop smoking. I’ve tried before, but wasn’t ready. That has changed.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Ward had moved on to other duties once the ambulance took over. He said he was sad about Mr. Jenkins. “I didn’t think he had a chance. And it was just two days before Christmas,” he said. He had tried to phone Mr. Jenkins’ wife, but Mr. Jenkins was confused and gave him the wrong number. About 6 p.m. that night, he heard dispatch sending an officer to Mr. Jenkins’ Edgewater address. Lt. Ward assumed it was to tell her that he’d died.
Mrs. Jenkins said later that, unaware of what was happening to her husband, she had left her job on Bestgate Road—not a mile from the hospital—and gone to Annapolis Mall. The couple was leaving for Aruba the following day. She didn’t get the message that her husband had had emergency surgery until she arrived home after 6 p.m.
The following day, Christmas Eve, Lt. Ward dropped by the hospital. “Was I surprised when they said he’s on the third floor with no restrictions! That made my whole Christmas.”
The near-death experience has taught Mr. Jenkins not to take anything for granted. “I’m getting back to normal and I hope to go back to work soon,” he said. His said his only risk factors were slightly high blood pressure and smoking. He said, “My New Year’s resolution was to stop smoking. I’ve tried before, but wasn’t ready. That has changed.”
Mrs. Jenkins said, “We’re a large, tight-knit family, all close by. It’s such a comfort to know that, while we were completely unaware of what was happening, all these people—the police, the paramedics, and the hospital staff—were taking care of Bill. I can’t imagine what it would be like if he weren’t here.”